The MGA With An Attitude
The basic Nuts and Bolts of How It's Done

This is a general discussion of the BASIC NUTS AND BOLTS of what goes into a full restoration.

In the most general terms, the entire car will ultimately be disassembled and reassembled. In the process every part will be inspected for condition, and no part will be reassembled into the car until it is suitably refurbished (if necessary) to as new condition for both function and appearance. In practice it is not necessary or advisable to reduce the entire car to nuts and bolts all at the same time. For instance, keeping the engine (or any other major assembly) mostly together in one piece while you are working on the body will avoid losing parts and forgetting how to put it back together after some significant lapse of time. I personally prefer to leave the engine work until very late in the project, as it may well be sitting around for a fairly long time before it gets to run again. So you might keep the subassemblies assembled (to the extent possible) except when you are actually working on the parts, and don't try to do too many things at the same time.

It might sound tempting (especially if you're anxious and ambitious) to tear everything apart for inspection first, and then order the parts that you know you will ultimately need so they will be on hand when you need them. I would advise you to resist and not trip into that particular pitfall, unless you are absolutely certain that your entire project will be completed in less than one year. Yeah, sure. Remember that the double plus 10% rule applies to time as well as money, so unless you think you will be working on it seriously enough to finish it in about 5 months, forget it. That would imply that you intend to be working on it perhaps as much as 50 to 60 hours per week with no holidays. Oh? Trust me, it can easily eat up that many labor hours. And even on an honest one year schedule, arranging to have the required outside services completed when you need them done is no simple trick. And if perchance your project should happen to flounder before it's finished (remember that denial thing), then you would have spent a considerable sum of money on lots of new parts that you may never use, and end up with another disposal problem, quite likely having to liquidate the parts inventory for a small portion of what it cost. Ouch!

Another approach sometimes used is to inspect and refurbish and reassemble each subassembly as it is removed from the vehicle, then bag it and tag it and put it on the shelf. That way by the time you get it all disassembled (which will be a relatively long time) all of the new stuff is "on the shelf", and all you have to do is to reassemble it (which should go pretty fast). This also sounds tempting because the parts would be all clean and new before you start reassembly, and you wouldn't need to get really dirty again during final assembly, so you might be able to keep the car spotlessly clean. The pitfall here is that it would be a long time before you're ready to start major reassembly, so as you're systematically spending more and more time and money it has the appearance of having less and less car. This can be somewhat discouraging that the car is not getting back together for a very long time (even though you know logically that the work is progressing). Another problem with this approach is that it requires you to spend more money early on (maybe not good) and leaves a lot of the labor intensive stuff until later (and we already covered what happens financially if you get discouraged late in the project). As such, I wouldn't recommend this approach either, unless you have a very firm resolve to see it through to the end, and also to keep the total schedule fairly short.

So then what's a more reasonable approach? That might be to do the things that are more labor intensive first, and the things that consume the most purchased services and new parts later in the project. That way you don't spend a large part of the money until later (assuming you ever actually get that far). This requires a little planning, but nothing serious. Just make a list of the required work in the order you plan to do it along with the anticipated time required for each stage of the project. When the work is actually progressing (assuming that it does), you should order up the new parts and services about one month before they will be needed, and trust that they will then arrive on time (modern "last minute inventory" technique). You can feel fairly comfortable with this approach, because most of the parts for the MGA are now readily available off the shelf (quality issues being a totally different discussion). This was admittedly not the case two or three decades earlier when these cars were much lower in value. But as the MGA model has been gaining in popularity in recent years and more are being restored, the supply of new parts has been improving along with the demand (business being "driven by the money supply").

Another consideration of sequencing the project is that you can't put a headlight on a fender that has not been painted, and you can't install a body on a rusted frame (reason for "critical path planning"). And as some parts naturally sit on top of other parts (law of gravity), it makes some sense to start at the bottom and work your way up (origin of the term "ground-up restoration"). While you could begin with the restored frame sitting on blocks, and then install the body, and then install the suspension later, as a matter of convenience it may be nice if the chassis was completed first so it can be moved about on the wheels while work is in progress (origin of the term "rolling chassis"). This may require the purchase of some parts earlier in the project, but still not the really expensive stuff.

Most people find that while cleaning and painting structural parts may be sort of "grunt work" (to put it mildly), that's stuff that most anyone can do them self with most of the investment being time and not much money. Inspect the part first to determine that it is in fact salvageable, then clean it and inspect it again, then do any necessary repair work on the part (welding or machining or installing bushings), and then paint it. The entire chassis is effectively structural parts where the finish appearance is not particularly critical (except for the wheels which are obviously exposed in plain sight), so not a lot of time required for sanding and buffing and polishing (wheels may benefit from sand blasting down to bear metal). As such, many people would start with restoration of the frame, the rear axle and rear suspension, and the front suspension and steering rack (not necessarily in that order). Wheels can be done at any time, so you could leave the old tires on them until the very end of the project and put off the cost of new tires. Most people will do the wheels early anyway (not very expensive except for new tires) just to make them look nice on the otherwise fully restored rolling chassis. Getting a little carried away with the "ground-up" approach they might do the gearbox and the engine next, but these are cost intensive items (especially the engine) that could just as well be left for later. One significant consideration here is that the frame may require some welding repair (sometimes a lot), so either you learn to do a little structural welding (appearance not critical) or you pay someone. But in any case, the frame is usually the first thing to get finished so you can start attaching other parts as work progresses.

Now the prudent will realize very early on that the most labor intensive part of the project is the body restoration work, and also that this may not require much of an investment in parts and only a moderate cost for finishing materials (not counting the final paint coat). As such, some people may choose to do virtually all of the body work first, before anything else (except perhaps the frame). This can absorb more than half of the total project time (assuming you do the body work yourself) before you need to start spending the serious money. This is also the the most important part of the project in terms of the perceived quality when finished, as the sills and doors need to fit right and the outer surfaces need to be smooth and ripple free. So if you should happen to "screw up" early on or maybe decide that it's too much work and ultimately abandon the project, then you lose mostly your time and not so much money (trying to avoid the pitfalls of denial here). For my first restoration I had all of the rolling chassis finished (except for the engine), and all of the body work done and in primer ready for final painting, and had at that time spent less than 25% of the total project money. Engine work was not started until about 6 weeks before the end of the project, about the time the first finish coat of paint was applied to the body. That was also about the time I started writing the serious checks for the finishing fabric and chrome trim parts.

As to other things that you can do yourself, rear axle and gearbox restoration is for the most part disassembly and reassembly with some new parts installed as required. Most anyone can do this (with a little patience and thought), and no special tools required. Engine work is also largely disassembly and reassembly with some new parts, except that here some professional machining work is required on the cylinder head and engine block while it's apart. Tools required here will include a torque wrench (handy for other things over time), a piston ring compressor (cheap tool), and as a matter of convenience a light engine stand (maybe $40 or so). Other individual tools that may cost more than an evening meal out would be a nice hydraulic floor jack, a set of jack stands, and an engine hoist (but this last one may be optional). A pair of stout saw horses make a decent body stand, while a couple of wood 2x4's and four steel caster wheels can make a roll about body dolly.

The greatest concern for most people as first-timers will be the learning curve and skills required for body work and painting on the outer appearance panels. There may be so much time involved in the body work that you can learn as you go. You may make a few mistakes early on but then actually get pretty good at it by the time your finished. This may be a desirable goal, or even a major purpose for the project, if you like the idea of adding this skill to your lifetime talent inventory. This will almost always require some welding on the sheet metal. Our local car club has a MIG welder that any member can borrow for short periods of time, and the MIG welder is generally well suited for thin metal welding. I myself managed to get through my entire first restoration using only an acetylene torch, which is a little slower but works with patience, and it is what I happened to own at the time. You can buy the torch and gauge set and can rent the tanks if you expect to need them for only a few months. An electric stick welder with a very small welding rod can also work on sheet metal in a pinch, but that requires much more practice and patience and is less forgiving when it comes to blowing holes through the metal. The stick welder is better for heavier structural welding though, and it may also serve as the base for a spot welding unit for installing large panel sections where you have access to flanged edges. The learning curve for body work and for any of the welders can be shortened significantly by taking an auto body and/or welding class at a local junior college. The same applies to finish painting, and here you might visit my quick course in air compressor tech if you're considering buying one of those.

Final flattening and finishing of the outer body surfaces may be more art than skill, and some people catch onto this quicker than others. This is where you may spend a lot of time doing rework during your first major project before you're satisfied with the results (and you make lots of sanding dust in the process). But the materials are not particularly expensive, so with patience most people can eventually do an acceptable job of it while learning that lifetime skill. If you are expecting a show quality finish on your first project car, then it may be prudent to farm out the final body finishing work and finish painting to a professional shop. While the person doing finishing work is not necessarily the same person doing final painting, they do often work in the same shop. An auto painting shop may handle all of this without getting into any collision repair shop. In this case the quality of the finished job depends mostly on the skill of the craftsman with some emphasis on quality of materials used. If you want a daily driver, MAACO may provide good value at a reasonable price. But after all this restoration work, most people don't mind paying more for better quality. For this you have to ask around some to find out who does the high quality painting, and then don't faint from sticker shock when you hear the quote.

Once you have your car body nicely painted, then you have the wonderful task of reassembling it and the rest of the car without chipping up or otherwise defacing the new paint job. To give yourself the best chance of success here you should have had the entire body fully assembled once (at least once) before final painting. After painting you want to run a tap through all threaded holes and be sure all floating capture nuts (what few there are on an MGA) are actually floating. And lots of patience should be used during final body assembly, don't work when you're tired, avoid distractions, etc. Paint chips and scratches can be quite irritating after you just paid big money for the quality paint job, so do your best to avoid them. Then it's time to drop in the engine (very carefully) if it hasn't been done yet, install the radiator and maybe an oil cooler and hook up all the engine controls. By this time things may be clean and nearly spotless in your workshop, and white gloves may be as functional as they are impressive. The final few weeks of the project will involve installing all that expensive trim stuff, probably starting with the windscreen, most of the chrome parts, the electrical devices and the wiring harness. Then on to carpeting, interior panels, cockpit rail coverings, seat stuffings and seat covers, rag top and tonneau cover, and final alignment and fitting of those intriguing side curtains (or the roll-up windows on the Coupe).

The actual turning of the key ceremony and the first test drive will only happen long after the first screw was removed for initial disassembly, but now this is payday, and play day, and vacation time and sex (maybe) all rolled up into one grand day. And the story of how you got from there to here would fill a book (or a web site in my case). All those minor details about how you negotiate the baby steps along the way are irrelevant, but much of it is covered elsewhere on this web site. For now just enjoy the dream, and hopefully no one will wake you for a few more minutes. Then you can take the steering wheel and pedals and shifter in hand and get on with the real reason that you started all this in the first place.
     O--  \ 
   (stomp on it)
Drive it till it drops, baby.

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